University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees A. John Bramley
Board of Trustees, President’s Report
February 3, 2012

Good morning. Let me start out with some brief updates related to our national and international reputation.

UVM's Lawrence Debate Union has been ranked seventh out of all college and university debating programs in the world and the top leading US debate school participant by the International Debate Education Association.

The Institute for International Education has ranked the University of Vermont fifth in the nation among public doctoral universities for the percentage of its undergraduate students -- 32.5 percent -- who participate in study abroad programs.

The University of Vermont ranks No. 5 on the 2012 top Peace Corps volunteer-producing colleges and universities in the category of medium-sized institutions.

The Huffington Post recently reported that the University of Vermont rates among “The 10 Best Places to Go to College.

UVM student athletes were awarded the conference academic cup for the 7th year in a row.

All of these are important demonstrations of the quality and competitiveness of the institution and that has been reinforced by the comments of our various Presidential candidates. They also suggest to me that we should be competitive in attracting highly qualified international students to study at UVM - a topic for discussion later on in the meeting.

While proud of our accomplishments and achievements we must acknowledge and address our failings. Sometimes we failed to live to our own standards of behavior respect and inclusiveness as expressed in “Our Common Ground”. Incidents such as the one late last semester with a totally inappropriate questionnaire in one of our fraternities remind us that we need to strive to do better. We have taken steps in this regard but it is something for which the entire community must take personal responsibility and leadership, including the Greek System and the student body itself.

At our last Board meeting I talked about economic trends and how it is likely to impact Vermont and the University in the years ahead. That is a topic I will continue briefly this morning with additional context and opportunities.

In November Governor Shumlin joined us on this campus to discuss higher education in Vermont and the critical and unique UVM role within it. To quote him: “The University is a state treasure and a huge asset”. The Governor announced the establishment of his advisory group to explore the strategies for Vermont’s investment in public higher education and UVM. That is both timely and essential - a cohesive approach or strategy is lacking and sorely needed. To reinforce his commitment to higher education the Governor’s budget included a recommendation for an additional one time investment of $4m to UVM.

Context

Over the last decade the nature of work has changed. That trend will continue with increased use of technology. We get our cash from ATM Machines, pay our bills and buy our goods online, and get our information from computer search engines and find our way by GPS. Computers play chess better than we do, assemble our cars and appliances, operate transportation systems, deliver data and information and can assess and adapt to our rate of learning. Many jobs that provided a decent career for a high school graduate have gone, never to return. At the same time new careers have been stimulated, or even invented, by technology. Future personal success and prosperity will require post-secondary and continuing education. High paying jobs will emphasize the skills that artificial intelligence is not good at - the intuitive, creative, entrepreneurial adaptive and soft skills at which humans excel. In addition, there will be many opportunities for individuals possessing the technical, computational, mathematical and scientific skills that drive technology. However, many other skill and knowledge areas will flourish more than 60% of job openings this decade will require post-secondary education. That will be a challenge for Vermont as currently only around 45% of K-12 students enter post-secondary education and half of them leave the state to do so. That will not build the skilled workforce needed for Vermont’s future economy.

Public education must ensure our population has the skills to be competitive and gain jobs with salaries to support themselves and their families. A well-educated local workforce and a strong research university are prerequisites to attract and grow businesses. Furthermore, educated citizens are better able to contribute to society rather than be a burden to it. Our foreign competitors have already worked this out and are producing well educated citizens, are investing heavily in education and research and sending their students to study in the best American and European universities.

Society is understandably concerned about affordability and access to education and we should be. But as Derek Bok said “If you think education is expensive try the cost of ignorance”.

So let me talk about just three topics of great importance and potential.

Embrace different learning models

Our young people are growing up in a different world, surrounded by, and comfortable with digital technology 24/7 connectivity. They download, they text, they talk, they surf and this impacts how they learn and the amounts and quality of information available to them. Information and data increase exponentially and it becomes impossible in many areas the sciences, medicine, geopolitics, etc. to keep pace. Everybody has to be a life-long learner and technology facilitates that.

Software can help make challenging concepts compelling and understandable. Increasingly, the role of educators is one of tutoring, guiding and facilitating students to ensure the basic principles and concepts are understood and that they learn to ask the right questions and to analyze and evaluate the information they obtain. Many students learn better experientially and one has to accept that it constitutes rigorous learning. It is not some soft alternative. Internships and research experiences must not be supplements to a curriculum but a core component. Similarly the soft skills (e.g. team work, work habits, communication skills, and foreign languages) are critical. They are not innate and must be taught and practiced. If I had my way, and of course

Presidents rarely do, every UVM graduate would have studied abroad, undertaken a research project, engaged in service learning or a business internship.

Reach out to new demographics and programs

For decades the UVM focus has been on 18-22 year old undergraduates, mainly from the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. There are seriously declining numbers of those students and increasing competition for them. We must seek to gain a greater market share in the face of stiff competition or our enrollments will decline and so will revenue, jobs and salaries. However, we must also seek other opportunities and engage populations that traditionally we have ignored or done little to serve.

In a world increasingly competitive for jobs many people are going to seek additional qualifications. The Lumina Foundation estimates that in Vermont there are 60,000 people who started but did not finish post-secondary education and that Vermont’s workforce will require an additional 58,000 degrees holding employees by 2025. That is a daunting challenge but one Vermont must position itself to address. Many of our colleagues are thinking about these chal-lenges. For example, the Dean of the Graduate College and the Dean of Continuing Education suggest that we might increase our competiveness and nimbleness by integrating the entrepreneurial, marketing and nimbleness of continuing education, with the academic and administrative functions of professional and graduate education in a unified structure to excel in these opportunities. That is a direction several institutions have gone and which is worthy of exploration.

Stimulate research, partnerships, private and business funding and entrepreneurship

The US economy will have to rely on brains not brawn for its future global success. In Vermont that means stimulating research, creativity and entrepreneurship and providing an environment that encourages and attracts private investment and in which the intellectual and research capacity of the University is effectively linked to the economy.

I advocate an expanded role and funding for the Vermont Technology Council to enhance its in partnership with UVM and other institutions and increase state wide economic development activity development via monthly business clinics around the state, research partnerships, strengthened technology transfer and licensing activity. Vermont might also consider the type of matching grant programs employed in Connecticut and Kentucky in which state dollars are used to match private fundraising and investment to support job creation and economic development.

This University has an opportunity to dramatically increase its positive impacts in Vermont, and fortunately the administration in Montpelier is recognizing how essential we are to the future health of this state. In the brief time I have left as your Interim President, working on these issues will be among my highest priorities. Thank you

Last modified February 03 2012 02:43 PM